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Just who is censoring safer sex?

The R18 Story, the legalisation of hardcore: Chapter 6: July 1999

Explicit scenes of penetration get past the censors in straight porn videos. In a gay safer sex video condoms being put on erect penises were banned.

Gay Men Fighting Aids (GMFA) are a campaigning group who feel that their recent safe sex video, Mates, got stiffed at the BBFC

Mates suffered 2:44s of cuts for an 18 certificate (Prowler Press)

The following is based upon an article by Simon Forbes in their May 1999 news letter


Mates condomsProwler has just launched Mates, a new style of safer sex video, produced in co-operation with GMFA. Sadly the BBFC demanded 10 cuts despite its health promotion content.

Essentially it was censored just like any 18 rated porn video. The BBFC felt that whilst it had a strong safer sex message, it was an invitation to watch graphic sex rather than educational. Some cuts were of condoms being put on fully  erect penises, making it unclear in many scenes that condoms are used. Scenes where the condom was put on a penis not fully erect were allowed, although this is a less safe practice.

Some cuts would probably still have been made under the R18 certificate. R18 videos can only be bought in licensed sex shops, making them harder to get than illegal hardcore videos.

R18 StoryThe BBFC have never allowed explicit buggery in gay videos, even at R18. This even applied to Pride's educational R18 Extreme Pleasure Zone. They have allowed explicit vaginal and anal penetration in straight R18s.

They demanded the removal of explicit fellatio and mutual masturbation from a Load R18 despite a prior agreement with Ferman, the previous director, to allow fellatio in exchange for not submitting buggery.

In distinguishing between an 18 and an R18, the BBFC seem mainly concerned with the issue of offensiveness to straights or someone who does not realise a video will be explicit. The BBFC's new director, Robin Duval, has already said many people find it much more difficult to confront the portrayal of gay sex than heterosexual sex [Gay Times, Jan 99]

Issues of safer sex appear to have a low priority. A straight video passed in 1997, See Real People Performing Better Sex shows highly explicit vaginal penetration, but no condoms are used. By contrast Load's 1996 gay video Angels with Broken Noses 2 shows condoms clearly used in each scene. It was only passed after 2 years and suffered some 15 to 20 cuts.

HMRC logoMany blame Jack Straw or Customs. However, a Customs spokesman said there is now no real difference between straight and gay sex so far as legal obscenity is concerned. He thought there was nothing obscene in the cuts from Mates, except possibly a glimpse of apparent penetration. He felt even that might be defended on 'public good' grounds. Customs allow mutual masturbation provided no ejaculation is shown. And they have no trouble with condoms on full erections.

Robin DuvalThe Home Office spokesman stressed that they are not responsible for any differences between straight and gay material. There were also no plans to have a higher age at which gay videos can be bought. This was proposed by none other than Robin Duval.

He said that they rarely intervene in BBFC affairs. They did so in 1997 because both Customs and Police complained that some straight R18s passed by the BBFC were legally obscene. Ferman had unilaterally relaxed restrictions after a 'lunch time chat' with a junior minister. He had failed to consult the Crown Prosecution Service or anybody else.

The new BBFC restrictions on gay sex are bizarre when you consider what is freely available in the West End, Richard of Load told me that we effectively have the least regulated porn market in Europe. Stuff that is completely banned and unobtainable on the continent can be bought easily 'under the counter'.

One of GMFA's objectives with this video was to counteract the harmful effects of hardcore material. Much of it contains explicit unsafe sex, or where condoms are not visible. Even when condoms are seen you rarely see anyone putting one on. They just appear like magic.

The BBFC were totally indifferent to the objectives of Mates. They appear to have discriminated against gay sex and done little to promote safer sex. Many talk as if Jack Straw was the Wicked Witch of the West and James Ferman was Dorothy. The truth is more complex.



Legalisation of R18 Hardcore  Chapter 1: Jacking Off the Censor Hardcore snippets temporarily got BBFC approval in 1997
 Chapter 2: Makin' Whoopee in Summer 1998
 Chapter 3: Rumours of a Return to Porn in November/December 1998
 Chapter 4: Porn is In & Out & In & Out Again the state of play in January 1999
 Chapter 5: The Video Appeals Committee Forcing the BBFC to respect the law, May 1999
 Chapter 6: Censoring Safer Sex Discrimination at the BBFC. May 1999
 Chapter 7: Hiding Behind Children Giving up on obscenity and using concern for children, July 1999
 Chapter 8: The VAC R18 Appeal Report from the VAC Appeal, July 1999
 Chapter 9: An Appealing Victory Video Appeals Committee judgment allows hardcore, August 1999
 Chapter 10: The Censor and the State BBFC seek Judicial review, winter 1999/2000
 Chapter 11: Judicial Review Confirms Legality of Hardcore: Spring & Summer 2000
 Chapter 12: More Sex Shops Required according to Andreas Whittam Smith, November 2000
 Chapter 13: The Legalisation of Hardcore: A recap 1997-2000